“Stories are as slippery as seasons; it’s beyond my power to make either stand still. I try to tell them the same way, but each telling leads to small changes; something is added to the structure, a change of pace, a tweak of testimonies, all of them make circles in our minds.”
There are few books that can make me uncomfortable. Aliya Whiteley’s novella, The Beauty, is one of those books.
The blurb helps it masquerade as a post-apocalyptic horror story that evolves into love and beauty, as the title would imply. Instead, this is the spectrum of New Weird I don’t like, thrown in with a heaping pile of New Age acceptance with raping sentient fungus.
The narrator of our descent into madness is a storyteller, and a great one at that. He’s able to weave together feelings and ideas in ways people can’t comprehend. This is a talent sorely needed when the only companion for a group of isolated widows in the wilderness is silence. Don’t know what you’re trying to say? Well, Nathan can explain it to you, make you love it, and make you love him.
And I think that’s the real beauty of this novel. The words are lovely. They’re surreal and fabulous. Whiteley’s writing style is gorgeous, flowering into brilliant turns of phrase and descriptions. At times, she can wax philosophical and delve too deeply into the poetic fantasies I like to avoid. Luckily, when the metaphors get too heavy, she knows to back off.
It’s a very fluid and confident style that shows her talent and experience.
“Grief is better alone. It has a cleaner taste, a sharper edge, that way.”
And besides one character, it’s the only redeeming part of the novel.
Like Nathan, the story can become twisted, the beauty grotesque when the storyteller says against that. We have to accept the ugly, no matter if they will kill us with silence and pleasure we don’t want. We have to accept the dead women, the fungus, the Beauties.
Because a strong person can find beauty through sickness and death.
It’s a nice theme; truthfully, all of themes presented in here are lovely, but like I am wont to say, the devil is in the details. Ideas do not make a story. Execution does.
You don’t let sentient fungal women rape men, pass it off as companionship and the right thing to do. There is a line I don’t like to cross, especially with something this ludicrous and alien. While I do commend Whiteley for showing both sides, this isn’t something I can stomach. At all. I would like to think she’s trying to tackle interracial marriage, or gay marriage, or simple acceptance of what beauty is. But I can’t commend Stockholm Syndrome, creatures that won’t let their men take two steps from them. I can’t follow a naive young man who thinks of his lover as the soft embrace of his mother.
“’They don’t want it, but they can’t refuse it.’”
That is downright weird and disturbing.
Granted, one man steps up to take charge of this matter. He sees the cancer that is growing, the lack of caring for consequences and respect, and decides to take matters into his own hands. He manipulates the Group every so subtly to form rules and give him power. Because he knows what must be done to survive when the youth are off gallivanting around with their lovers.
But like all things, the fire of young blood is often times stronger than tradition and foundation. Change comes just as slight as his silence maneuvering. The Beauties take care of the Group, protect them from harm and themselves. They build fires, chop wood, and let the youngsters do what they wish.
Gender roles begin to flip and respect for the old ways decline. Men start to wear their mother’s clothes. And eventually, the unthinkable happens. Babies are born. From men.
I don’t like the unnatural when it crosses a certain line. It makes me uncomfortable. And maybe that says something important. I can stomach death and waste and destruction, but I can’t watch sentient fungus have sex with men, and them pass it off as tolerance when all they want is companionship.
And while Whiteley tries to tackle these themes, she can only connect them with fluidity. She doesn’t expand upon them, which creates a haphazard moral with no depth. One could argue that this ambiguity is a good thing. I might be inclined to agree over time. I think the shock is still trying to wear off.
The writing is about the only thing that pushed me along, the only beauty to be found between these pages. It’s a short novel, a novella to be exact. You’ll finish this in an afternoon, if you can stomach it. And strangely enough, I did. That’s the thing that scares me.
“And so beauty became something unobtainable, something to be admired and feared, beyond my reach, even my understanding.”
*I was given this ARC for my honest review.*